Marriage is a great institution, but I’m not ready for an institution. – Mae West
The majority of people are told from a young age that someday they are going to get married and have children. It’s spoon-fed to children in a steady diet between playing with baby dolls, cowboys and Indians, Jedi and Legos. They are constantly reminded on the direction of their lives in conversations like this recent one with a five year old:
“Mommy, what do I do after Kindergarten?”
“2nd, 3rd, 4th and you keep going until you finish 12th and you’re out of high school.”
“What’s after high school?”
“What’s after college?”
“Whatever you want it to be.”
“When do I get married?”
“Ellie says you have to get married. When do I get married? I want to marry Will. Or maybe Hunter. Or maybe Holden … “
It may seem disconcerting to have a life-planning session with a five-year-old but it’s a very typical conversation for a lot of parents. Kids like to plan. They like knowing ‘what comes next.’ Whether marriage is discussed at home, there’s a safe bet it’s brought up in their playgroups or with their friends.
Girls, even more than boys are indoctrinated into this level of expectation. It becomes very natural to assume that marriage is the next step in the evolution of adulthood. Despite all evidence to the contrary, it also remains the most romanticized and fairy-tale-ized institution between men and women.
These unrealistic expectations of marriage cause problems. The best way to avoid unrealistic expectations of marriage is to be honest with your partner and with yourself. Marrying because it’s ‘the right thing to do’ is not an honest way to involve yourself in a long-term committed relationship.
Marriage is a social, emotional, mental and physical contract between two individuals. They will not cease being two individuals when they are married. There will be a constant seesaw of compromise and direction. Individual successes and goals have to be as respected as they were before the couple married. Avoid the ‘traps’ of societal expectation. Some women don’t like to cook. While women may be nurturers, the expectation that either partner has of her doing ‘everything’ and ‘working’ is ridiculous.
Avoid the societal expectation that the man ‘has to bring home the bacon.’ Some fathers make fantastic stay at home dads or sacrifice the 80-hour week to a lower income in order to be there with the family on a regular basis. Some moms may sacrifice going after their Master’s degree until the kids are a little older.
Defining the marriage in terms of the children is another mistake. Remember, children are a product of a relationship between two adults. Couples that are not in love and not committed to one another can produce them. The marriage contract between the two adults is between them. Their kids benefit or not based on the results of their commitment.
Making a marriage work, means making it work for the two people involved. Talk to each other and make sure that the lines of communication are never broken down. Even couples that just argue and disagree are talking. When communication breaks down, ceases to function between the two partners in a marriage, the relationship are in danger from apathy and entropy.